Samsung's Galaxy S and Galaxy Note lines have converged over the past three generations, to the point where very little differentiates the two lines. The one true standout feature of the Note line is the S Pen, which really has no competition in the market — but even still, it hasn't fundamentally changed since the Galaxy Note 5, leaving even Note fans clamoring for the next big advancement.
The latest rumors for the Galaxy Note 9 launch point to a new style of S Pen that keeps its home inside the phone but now connects over Bluetooth to offer new features. We don't have much of a hint of what those improvements could be, but I have a few ideas — some practical, some far-flung enough that they'd have to be implemented in future versions of the Note. Let's go through a thought experiment.
Better awareness of where the pen is
Never leave your S Pen behind, and keep using it away from the phone.
Galaxy Notes have always had a system to alert you if you have stopped using the S Pen and didn't place it back inside the phone. With a full Bluetooth connection, this can go a step further — the phone would always know precisely whether the S Pen is within range of it. Alerts for leaving your S Pen behind somewhere would be far more reliable, and there would no longer be false positives so long as Bluetooth is turned on.
Going a step further, this new awareness of proximity opens up even more possibilities. Currently, the phone only knows that the S Pen is there when it's extremely close to the display — move it about an inch away, and it no longer does anything because it's a passive instrument. But with Bluetooth (and therefore a battery), the S Pen will always have a connection to the phone — the button(s) will still be able to perform functions and there are other possibilities for interaction other than only putting the tip of the S Pen on the screen.
Presentation and media controls
Let's take that idea a bit further — what can you do with an S Pen if the phone can recognize its interactions even when it's not in the immediate proximity of the display? The simplest feature would be using the S Pen's button for media controls or as a presentation tool. With 30+ feet of range, you could easily see someone using the S Pen as a simple tool to play/pause video playing on the phone connected to an external display, or move through a presentation with the small S Pen rather than holding the big Note 9.
This would be extra useful if the S Pen added another button, rather than relying on the single button it's historically had. This could be as simple as turning the clicky end piece into an actual button — currently, it's just a retractable tab that helps you pull the S Pen out of the phone (and satiate your fidgeting habit).
Recording off-display writing
With the right developers on board, the possibilities are endless.
If the S Pen can send information to the phone over Bluetooth at a distance, why would you necessarily need to write on the display? I'd love to see Samsung implement some sort of way to record writing that you do off the display but within Bluetooth range of the phone. Much like dedicated "smart" pens have done in the past, perhaps you could do some scribbling on a flat surface with the S Pen and see it relayed in virtual space on the Note's display. Whether that's to give you a larger canvas to work on or just an extra option for expansion, it'd be a neat trick.
Even if this was only available as a secondary accessory for the S Pen that offered an ink-filled pen attachment, it'd be an amazing extension of the Note's ability to be a productivity and artistic device.
Perhaps some gaming tie-in
Samsung's CEO, DJ Koh, recently hinted that the S Pen may have some sort of tie-in with gaming. Being connected over Bluetooth and offering extra functions with its button(s) lends itself to this kind of advanced interaction, but it's hard to imagine this going very deep considering its size. You'd have to imagine that any sort of "game" the S Pen is used for would have to be specially designed for it, and will most likely be some sort of casual game.
Leaning on the above idea of drawing off of the screen, you could easily see some sort of party game coming together where you would draw something on the table that nobody could see aside from the one with the phone, and others guess it. Not exactly something that's going to sell a ton of Note 9s, but it could be something Samsung develops in-house just to show what the new phone and new stylus are capable of.
Use as a headset
Samsung's done it before, and it can do it again.
As crazy as it sounds to have the S Pen work as a headset, Samsung actually has some standing in this area. It made an S Pen that doubled as a Bluetooth headset for the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, but it was obviously far too big to be considered as a phone accessory. Perhaps now it could get the technology down to a size small enough to fit inside a Galaxy Note phone.
Sure, we don't make as many phone calls as we used to, but those who use a Note are the type who want to be able to multitask and may want to use a Bluetooth headset — with this, they could continue to use their phone while talking through the S Pen. It wouldn't be as useful as a dedicated headset or headphones with a microphone, but in a pinch, it'd be far more helpful than talking on speakerphone.
What do you want?
We're quickly approaching the launch of the Note 9, and we're all interested in speculating about what Samsung could do with the S Pen to make the Note line stand out. Whether it's for this release or the future, what do you want to see from the S Pen? Let us know in the comments!
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